Monday, November 5, 2012

Taking the Windows 8 Plunge

If you're used to Microsoft's stratospheric pricing email program -- Outlook alone is US$139.99 estimated retail -- take a look at the small print at Microsoft's Windows 8 website, and you'll see that a Windows 8 Pro upgrade can be downloaded for a limited-time at the measly price of $39.99.

This is a surprising bargain from the monolith -- and a significant change in direction from the $100-plus upgrades we've been used to.

So, grab that bank card and jump in. Here's how to approach an install.

Browse to the Microsoft Upgrade to Windows 8 website. Then run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant on the computer that you intend to use.

Tip: If you've recently bought a new Windows 7 PC, the $39.99 deal probably is not for you. You're likely eligible for a $14.99 deal from Microsoft instead.

Allow the Upgrade Assistant to run and check applications -- now called "apps" -- and devices for compatibility. Then click on the "See Compatibility Details" link and review the list.

Start researching items shown by performing a Web search. Find out what drivers and software updates, if any, are available for legacy gear.

A printer driver that's marked "not compatible" could end up costing you the price of a new printer. Printers are cheap these days, so it may not matter. However, this is a good time to bail if the list is long and you get cold feet.

Tip: Print the list before closing it -- it may be the last time your printer works.

Choose the prior OS files you want to keep. The Upgrade Assistant will prompt you to choose between Windows settings, personal files and apps, personal files and nothing.

Windows 7 PC apps will easily transfer to Windows 8. In the case of a Vista or XP upgrade, you will need to manually install apps after the operating system installs.

Click on the "Next" button and choose the 2 GB digital download. Allow the processes to take place and follow the prompts.

Determine the version that you are going to need:

Windows RT is only available pre-installed on ARM-processor tablets and PCs. Choose Windows 8 Pro if you want an OS oriented to data protection, remote desktop connection or corporate network connections.

Tip: All of the Windows 8 operating systems are touch-enabled, although you need a PC that supports multitouch to use it.

Microsoft provides enterprise versions of Windows 8, too. Software Assurance customers can obtain the OS from Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) where you can download products and keys. Access the VLSC center with a Microsoft Live ID and password.

Other methods for obtaining Windows 8 Enterprise are through a Technet Professional subscription, or Microsoft developer network (MSDN) subscription. Technet subscriptions include courses, start at $199, and help IT people plan deployments.

MSDN can be accessed with a Live ID, and subscriptions start at $699. A subscription provides software for development and testing, support via forums, SDKs and other tools.

If none of the IT and developer solutions sound particularly attractive and you're not sold on the $39.99 single-PC upgrade, you can download a 90-day evaluation copy in either 32-bit or 64-bit from the TechNet Evaluation Center.

The program is called "Springboard Series." Click on the link to the version that you need.

Large-scale deployment?

Helpful deployment resources include the Microsoft Development Toolkit for 2012, which includes Windows 8 support. This tool assists in deployment of Windows 8 across multiple desktops and servers.

Download the app and choose Getting Started from the Information Center within the Deployment Toolkit to get started on the considerable learning curve and prepare an MDT infrastructure.

Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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